Band Of Holy Joy – and the return of ‘English vignettes’

The Band of Holy Joy are back with a double download singleThe Black Middens” on the 28th of April. In between his trip to the gym in preparation for a tour of Greece and an afternoon stint on the touchline coaching an adults with learning difficulties football team, I grabbed a chat with the man behind swirling epics like the recent “Oh What A Thing This Heart of Man”; singer, songwriter, playwright and broadcaster, Johny Brown.

Originally formed on the London squat scene back in the 80’s and tagged onto the burgeoning industrial movement, more by accident and their refusal to use conventional instruments than any metal pounding angst, the band enjoyed success until they quietly disbanded in the mid 90’s. Leaving Brown to develop his writing and theatrical ideas, subsequently taking his plays to the Edinburgh Festival. And, more recently, to produce his acclaimed Resonance FM show “Mining For Gold” a mixture of “sound and text, obscure stuff culled from out of the ages, visionary and rare artists that inspire us in the here and now”.

Reforming ten years on, a continuing lyrical fixation with the seedier sides of life and a desire to write “English vignettes” led a stripped down version of the band to take a hiatus from the conventional live group format and work on a series of his ‘song plays’. “Troubled Sleep” performed at the ground-breaking art/music/happening ‘Shunt’ and taken on the road to his home town of Newcastle, was inspired by observing the nocturnal comings and goings of a beds-by-the-hour hotel near his adopted home in Hackney, East London.

Now back in a more conventional live format of vocals, guitar, fiddle, bass and drums, the band have been steadily releasing stunning, beguiling records that seem to allude to our broken cities, dreamlike landscapes, lost values and renewed hope – “I have concern about the cities..” – summoning up the sublime and the kitchen sink in equal parts. “..I feel we are making a stand for the romantic heart, for forgotten things – tenderness, dignity – things that are not ironic. We aren’t a sarky finger-pointing band, we write from dark to light”.
Like the The Waterboys’ wild flowers growing on The Fall’s poisoned wastescapes or the film of Gormely’s ‘Angel’ before installation: prone and paraded at night through the crowded streets of a shipyard town like some contemporary folk fire-festival, old skills and half forgotten crafts are involved – “we started out using old fashioned instruments found in junk shops” – and the city, the industry, the ritual of making and the ritual of celebration is never far away. With comparisons to Brecht and Brel thrown around in the early days – “..mandolins, trumpet, battered us noticed by the press, but really they were all we could afford – more importantly, they shaped our song writing and what we listened to”, what began in folk music’s rustic simplicity, has grown into cinematic soundscape. “It’s important for us to capture a time and a place with a song, I’m not into religion but I’m inspired by the idea of people having spiritual ecstasy’s ”“ the bands name, yes, originally it was part ironic – but really it describes our musical intentions very well”.

Live, there’s an alarming but equally disarming honesty about Brown’s passionate delivery. Poetry, stories and song lines, with snippets of dialogue run through and across the bands musical grain. Whilst behind them, film maker Inga Tillere’s projections, inspired by the songs, but left to develop their own life, flicker like visual postcards, scraps of Newcastle, landscapes, fields, posts, wire, telegraph poles, London…

“I love the overlooked areas of big cities, like New Cross in London where we formed and Hackney where I live. I came here because of the creative people, the cheap rents and rehearsal spaces. The pubs with good jukeboxes, where ideas get thrown around. There’s still a feeling of the possibility of making non corporate, non government sponsored art in these places. When you’re young you just accept being in a band, but now it feels like a privilege to be on stage, to try to inspire, to do all these things, to play music, write, create, to host a radio show that maybe is playing the unsung poets of the future”.

“On The Ground Where John Wesley Walked/The Black Middens” is released on 7th April on iTunes
With a live performance ST PANCRAS CHURCH in Kings Cross
“Oh What a Thing This Heart of Man” is out now on iTunes
‘Mining For Gold’ is presented by Inga Tillere and Johny Brown on Resonance104.4fm every Friday night at 11.30pm


Previous articleThe BBC is reconsidering plans to close digital station the Asian Network
Next articleBucharest – A City In Transition (and some great new bands)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here